There is a Smarter Approach to Mineral Management After Heavy Rains!

June 28, 2024 0


Heavy rains are a blessing for farmers, but they can also lead to headaches – especially when it comes to mineral deficiencies in livestock. Leaching from the soil can leave animals short on essential nutrients, impacting their health and productivity.

However, before you reach for the mineral boluses and drenches, there’s a smarter way to address the issue a – “mineral audit”, which is a targeted approach to identifying exactly what minerals your animals lack.

Experts in livestock and grassland minerals advise against jumping straight to supplements. It’s often easy to assume a mineral problem exists when it might actually not. A mineral audit acts like a detective, uncovering imbalances, shortfalls, or even oversupply of minerals in your animals’ diet.

Imagine your farm as a complex ecosystem. Minerals can be present in the soil but not readily absorbed by plants. Conversely, plants may contain minerals that animals struggle to utilize. A mineral audit helps unravel these mysteries, ensuring your livestock get the precise nutrients they need to thrive.

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Here’s a step-by-step guide to assessing mineral deficiencies after a flood:

  1. Listen to Your Animals
  • Are they curiously drawn to each other’s urine? This might signal a sodium and chloride imbalance, often pointing towards a lack of sodium.
  • Do they chew on stones, a behavior known as pica? It could indicate insufficient phosphorous in their diet.
  • Are they resorting to eating soil? This can be linked to both sodium and phosphorous deficiencies.
  • Observe their overall health: daily weight gain, coat condition, and eye clarity. Rule out parasites with a simple faecal egg count.
  1. Back to Basics

Before diving into minerals, consider dry matter intake. A basic forage analysis can reveal if your pastures or silage lack protein, energy, or dry matter itself. Remember, heavy rain can dilute these essential components, making it difficult for livestock to consume enough.

  1. Leverage Existing Knowledge
  • Do you have recent soil tests, particularly those measuring cation exchange capacity? This test helps understand how well your soil holds onto minerals.
  • What fertilizers and lime products are you using? Some can restrict or affect the overall mineral balance. Addressing a low soil pH, for instance, might solve your mineral woes naturally.
  1. Consider Feed Sources
  • Purchased feeds and forages come with varying mineral profiles. Compound feeds are often pre-mineralized, making intake calculations easier. Are you already supplementing minerals?
  • Lick buckets offer a convenient solution, but estimating actual animal intake can be tricky.
  1. Floods and Mineral Depletion

Flooding washes away crucial minerals like nitrates, sulphates, phosphates, and even iodine, essential for animal growth. While plants don’t require iodine, it’s vital for young livestock.

The Payoff: Conducting a Mineral Audit

Investing in a mineral audit can save you money and ensure your animals receive the right nutrients. Here’s what it entails:

  • Forage Test: A wet chemistry analysis by a qualified lab is key, as soil tests don’t reflect what’s available to your animals.
  • Blood Test: This helps identify imbalances in macro-minerals like magnesium and trace elements like selenium.
  • Liver Biopsy (Optional): While less common, this can reveal any excessive mineral storage in the liver, a potential sign of toxicity.
  • Water Test: Especially important for dairy farms, water quality can impact mineral absorption.

By taking this comprehensive approach, you can avoid the guesswork and expense of unnecessary mineral supplements. The audit might reveal that your animals are simply not eating enough dry matter due to low-quality forage after the wet season. Or perhaps a simple adjustment to your fertilizer regime is all that’s needed to address a mineral imbalance in the soil.

The mineral audit may seem like an extra step, but it’s an investment that can save you money in the long run. By understanding your animals’ specific needs, you can ensure they’re getting the right balance of minerals for optimal health and productivity.

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